Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

"Shoved down our throats"???

Healthcare. OK big debate. My stance:

  • You shouldn't have to think about going bankrupt when in a medical emergency
  • We spend the most, of the industrialized world, on medical care
  • We rank 50th in terms of longevity
  • 49 countries have longer lives, good healthcare and spend less on it per person
  • Our personal experience with medicine, i.e. doctors and hospitals, is virtually the same as countries with socialized medicine

Again I'm not usually the biggest fan of New Scientist, but this a pretty straightforward explanation.



Its not that hard, medicine is one thing we can learn from our planetary neighbors. We can teach how to keep, say, energy and food prices low, but when it comes to healthcare we are the students not the teachers.

So, we get a president and congress who can finally do something about a rotten system. They have been talking about it for literally years. What do I hear over and over again?

"Why are the politicians trying to shove "Universal Health Care" down out throats?"
"Shoving Government Health Care Down Your Throat"
"Democrats are "shoving" Kennedy's bill down Republicans' throats without considering their ideas. "
" no bipartisan debate"
"There is no debate. Congress & the Senate pass whatever laws they want, even if they have never read the bill"
"they are enacting this leftist agenda, without reading the bills!"
Two shadowy back-room deals are being struck right now inCongress as part of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi push to advance socialized healthcare before the August “recess.”

Bullshit.
Ok, I could obviously go on forever here. The rallying cry here for the paranoid right is that this bill is just running through congress and will be signed without anyone reading it and americans will suffer from lower healthcare costs and longer lifespans...Oh wait.. That's not quite what they are saying is it?

What do you mean there is no debate?
Formal debate started back in the middle of June (yeah over a month ago). Immediately it focused around costs and including republicans views:

"A bipartisan bill takes far more time than not," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which had been expected to unveil a package of reforms by tomorrow and hold a committee vote next week. Amid concerns about cost from Republicans and some Democrats, Baucus said he has agreed "to slow things down" and that committee action could be delayed until after the Fourth of July recess.

More recently "Blue Dog" democrats (some of whom are hardly democrat) had the ball. Again it came to fiscal responsibility, which I am all for. Guess what? After more discussion and negotiation, even they have come on board for the most part.

So there was a deadline. What happened?

"We did give them a deadline, and sort of we missed that deadline. But that's OK," Obama said. "We don't want to just do it quickly, we want to do it right.

This bill has gone through committee (13 dems 10 reps) after committee (13 dems, 10 reps) after committee (36 dems, 23 reps). If no one is actually reading the bill, what is it they are debating for weeks on end with both republicans and democrats in these various committees? Really, does this sound like a bill being shoved down Americans throats?


Closed door? Really, why is it that you can download and read the very bills being debated?
At the committee for energy and commerce
At kaiser for side by side summaries (there are 11 proposals on the table)
Policy options at the senate finance committee

One complaint is that many of these versions are making it though committee with votes along party lines. Sorry but that is what you expect when you have a status quo loving, party of "no". They certainly yap that costs need to be controlled. But what is the plan?

Camp said that the House Republican proposal calls for refundable tax credits for lower-income Americans

Brilliant. Really, thats it. The rest of it is more of the same thing that has been tried in the last 12 years. Healthcare accounts which promote more of the same system we already have. If they were so great, why haven't people already taken advantage of it. Policy: failure.

Transfer medicaid benefits to private insurance. So, boosting more money into the current failed system. Policy: failure.

Pooling of groups to lower insurance rates. Already implemented. more of the same broken system. Policy failure.

Basically republicans offer more of the same system that is clearly broken and still don't know how to pay for that.

But what is this?

This Republican alternative bill also contains several ideas that are increasingly championed by both parties.
·~Longer coverage for youths. It would allow dependent children to stay on their parents' policies until they are 25.
·~Promotion of wellness at the workplace. It would encourage employers to reward employees for improved health.
·~Expansion of community health centers.
·~Mobile health care. It would allow Americans to maintain their specific health insurance policies when they lose or leave jobs.
·~In-home care. It would provide financial help and encourage more in-home care over institutions.
·~Limitations on malpractice lawsuits. There is general agreement over limiting such lawsuits, but a deep divide exists over exactly how much.

But but but, i thought you said that no one is listening to republican ideas? Even Obama said it himself:

“Medical liability issues — I think all those things have to be on the table,” Mr. Obama said. “And I won’t lie to you that everybody agrees on this theoretically until you start getting into the specifics.

Know what? Yeah if you have a national health care system (which is NOT what is being proposed) you can have significant tort reform. This is the model Australia uses (Who by the way is also far ahead of us in longevity)

Need for reform: cost reduction, economy boost, longevity gains
Closed door meetings: All bills and summaries of bills available online
No reading of bills: What is being debated then?
Shoved down our throats: Policy outlines started over a year ago, specifics over a month and a half ago, deadline for voting on it, late october.

Party of "No" Republicans and right wingnut blow hards? Utter and complete fail.



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Balancing act

Phil Plait and others have debunked the idea that you can balance an egg on end only on the vernal equinox. He then shows that a little patience can lead to egg balancing on any day. Wanna see patience?

A local artist, Justin Zaremski balances lots of things like rocks and tools. He makes some of the most amazing balancing sculptures. He just sent me a new one which I thought was pretty amazing.


Wow.

I guarantee that this is not a photoshopped image, there is no glue involved, there are no tricks of any kind. Just patience and perseverance.



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John Fleming

I am pretty sure that I have made clear that most of my values and goals are liberal in nature. However I am just as adamant that we know how we are going to pay for things that we do. I also strongly desire that we remove programs that do not work. I don't care who came up with what, legislation should be pretty easy (I know it isn't). All legislation should address 5 important points:

  • Specifically, what problem is going to be fixed?
  • Specifically, how will this be paid for?
  • Specifically, what quantifiable metric will be used to measure success?
  • Specifically, what values do these metric have to be to attain success?
  • What date will the law expire if success has not been attained?

Why is that so hard? It doesn't matter if the law is simple or huge. The stimulus should have had this, the bank bailouts should have had this, and the on going talks about health care should have these points addressed.

It's probably naive to think that this will happen.

Let's be clear about one thing. I want a healthcare overhaul. I spend 800 dollars a month on health care, and my employer spends 500 dollars. Thats 1300 dollars a month being spent on my health care. We just had a baby, that cost another 1000 dollars. On top of all that, I just got an ulcer which would have cost me another 1000 dollars if I went to the hospital (I almost did). This comes to about 17,600 dollars for me and my family (which is now made of 4 people). That comes to 4400 per capita for me. This is still less than the average 6000 per capita (or 7900 depending on where and when you get your facts)for americans.

This is a totally crappy system. A system that only give me the choice of whoever my company chooses to use. My company may or may not make a choice that is in my best interest. But regardless of that, its too much damn money for the same services and short lifespan than in other countries.

Some proposals are saying my taxes will go up 13,000 dollars for a nationalized healthcare program. So I would do better than break even but I wouldn't have to think about extra expenses from my trip to the hospital? Sign me up!

We have the most expensive healthcare in the world, but our longevity ranks 50th with respect to other countries. How do those other countries do it? Nationalized healthcare is overwhelmingly the answer. How much does it cost each taxpayer? Between 2500 and 4000 dollars/year in taxes*. If they can achieve costs like that in France or Macao (where the lifespans are longer)...why can't we?

What could be clearer?

OK so clearly I want us to try something new.

But guess what. I am sick of government leaders getting stuff that we don't get. If they are going to design a healthcare system it should be good enough for them to use themselves. I completely realize this is a stunt, but I support this resolution by House Republican John Fleming. Oops... I did support it until I read it.

Flemings website is bereft of any real information about issues. He is for education and for energy independence. Who isn't? No specifics. Nothing about social issues to be found. But I don't really care about that, I don't vote for him. I was supportive of this resolution until I realized that he was essentially calling for himself to keep his cushy nice healthcare plan that everyone in the entire US would like to have and is only calling for people who actually want to implement change to use the public option.

Here is what I say: remove the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) all together. Get rid of it. Make government branches supply healthcare just like everyone else gets it, through their employers. If the public option is better than private, then fine, use that. If private insurance is used to fill in gaps (like supplying nonsense therapies) then government officials can have the same choices we all have. But this idea that if you don't vote to improve a system you get to keep unbelievable healthcare is just plain greed.

I was originally happy to see someone trying to make sure the congress has to live by the same rules as everyone else. Too bad he had to be so damn stereotypical for his party.



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Three Questions

I'd been thinking about this for a while. Basically my thought was something along the lines of "For cripes sake, hasn't this horse been beat to death yet?". What was I thinking about? Arguments for God of course.

Over the millennia there have been lots of excuses arguments that try to justify a belief in god. Some of these include:

Cosmological/First Cause
Cosmological/Fine Tuning
Ontological
Anthropological
Teleological
Moral
Existential
Pascals Wager

And a variety of others. These tired and boring defenses have been brought out time and time again as if they are new or confounding in any way. They aren't because they have been answered and the conversation never goes beyond it.

For example, first cause. We have heard it. Science has brought you a concept about conservation of energy, cause and effect, and so on. Now you wish to turn that around and make it an excuse for a god existence. But we witness lots of uncaused things. For example radioactive decay. Given a chunk of Uranium 238, which decays to thorium 234, there is no way to predict which atom will be the next one to change. When an atom does change, through alpha emission, there is no cause (that we know of), it was just the next random one to go.

We find uncaused events in quantum mechanics when proper conditions are set up, where particles appear out of nowhere, uncaused (I am greatly simplifying). But its true, these seem like nit picks when compared to the creation of the universe and all the energy that is present.

Fine, lets look at our experience with classical physics versus relativity versus quantum mechanics. Newtonian physics "seems" right because it models the universe within our human experiences. Only when we start studying huge speeds, gigantic masses or tiny particles that are outside of our normal experience does it fail to model observations very well.

So once we move outside of our human experience with respect to such large energies, far larger masses, enormous distances and measures of time that make no sense to us puny humans, why shouldn't we think that something came from nothing with respect to our perception, and even if it did, so what? That means we are simply unable to define what was before, if there even was a before.

But alas, no, for some reason "I don't know" is not good enough, so God must step in. Never mind all the "I don't knows" that go along with that idea.

So, in fact I'm pretty tired of these arguments. They are boring, they always end up with theists pretending they understand physics (or biology). They have already been debated by people far more qualified than me and where as it gotten us (or the theists)? If you want an example of a typical conversation like this check out a recent one at Skeptico's place.

So I have only 3 questions for them. I have been thinking about these questions for some time but never really had a chance to use them. I may not be brilliant, perhaps these have been used before. I've never seen them. Here they are:

Is God all powerful and currently using that power in this universe?

The first question is to assure myself that the theist is sure that miracle can and do happen now. If we are talking about a watchmaker god that sits back and laughs at us, then that's a different conversation, and one basically useless. If God isn't acting in this universe now, what good is he? How is that different than no god? I want to be sure that the person I am speaking with assures me that God can do anything. Recently when I posed this question I was given these verses to back up the positive answer:

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens...When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and a the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8

"He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible...all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:15-17

"He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Hebrews 1:3

Does God know me?

The second question is to be sure that the person I am speaking with thinks that God knows everything about me. More than I may even know myself. I know that the answer to this is invariably yes, it has to be God is omniscient right? As a response to this question I was given these phrases:

"You (God) are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breast. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God." Psalm 22: 9-10

Honestly, I read that and I have no idea how this says anything about God being omniscient. The person I was having the conversation with was quick to point out that just because God knows me, doesn't mean he is going to perform some parlor tricks to get me to believe. But that brings me to my third question.

Does God love me and want me to be saved?
If god really loves me and wants me to be saved and go to heaven, why wouldn't he perform a simple trick. It would not take much. My example was to hold out my hand and look up. If they could see this, they may ask what I am doing. I respond, "I am waiting for a frog to appear in my hands". This sort of thing could happen to atheists all over the world and we no longer would be talking about existence proof, we would be talking about which religion is the right one. We would all be deists pretty quickly.

Of course when I present the frog conclusion, I was responded to with the following:

U embarrass urself w/ ur lack of comprehension. What do you think...God is some jack-n-the-box in the sky just waiting to perform for u and ur silly mindless friends? LOL
Get a clue dood...He's no more going to do anything for you, than you are going to do anything for Him.
If you get saved, it will be the product of his grace, not his tricks.
Should i slow down, or are u tracking w/ me...I know it takes away to sink in...

Does he want me to be saved or not? Why do biblical skeptics get burning talking bushes, water turned into wine, and walking on water and 40 day floods and I can't get a single little frog. I'd take a coqui.

Either god is not omnipotent, or he is not omniscient or he doesn't in fact love everyone and want everyone to go to heaven.

But I have a far more obvious answer.

He doesn't exist.



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A Skeptical Journey Through the Universe!

 

Welcome Aboard!

image

You are now seated on the faster touring cruiser in the known universe. This vessel is known as The Skeptica, a Sagan class vessel that can hold thousands of passengers as we take our trip through the known universe.

First we would like to apologize for a number of things. The captain has had a very full schedule and it appears that since this is the only vessel that makes this particular trip, he has needed to limit the number of planets to be the best and most interesting. Unfortunately, when he conferred this issue to the home worlds, it appears that only a few have opened their ports to us. So we will visit those, and hopefully next time things will be a bit more varied.

But enough excuses, Lets go on our journey!

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Our first stop is to the Planet Stollznowskiserpakiak. This planet hosted a society vibrant with technology, science,  and wondrous works of art for centuries. The humorous and happy denizens of this planet have long been our ally in our quest for understanding reality as it is. Unfortunately, they recently have been invaded by the Rectohaunts. creatures invading orifices where they most certainly don’t belong. We have dispatched some help, but it looks like for the most part they are getting a good handle on the problem themselves.

We certainly don’t want to get caught up in that, so lets move on to our next destination… Slooeyscepsoc!

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There is simply no denying that this is a gorgeous world! While the surface is quite barren the seas are teeming with life! There are over 4 million species of creatures here, not including one celled varieties! Much like our own planet, even with so many species, only one of them has developed a consciousness that is advanced enough to communicate with us. These beings are known as the Jurists. This is the best translation we get from their mode of communication, which is a series of bubbles that are read in size of bubble, duration of bubble stream, and velocity of bubbles. It took us about 100 years before we realized that these interesting creatures were sentient. For all that time we just thought they tasted good.

The jurists have an interesting society. Its a pure democracy where everything is decided upon by majority. And when I say everything, I mean everything from the sea crops that they will be pursuing, to the time when they evacuate their Goord bladders. What is more amazing is that for the most part, voting is unanimous! If you look at your personal viewscreeen, you can read what happens when one member of this society questions the biases of the rest of the members.

As we leave you can hear the committee saying “bloob blurg ptblaaaaaP”, which is simply their way of asking us to return soon.

Off to our next destination… LV246!

image

We are visiting this green and lush world filled with mystic and ancient knowledge. But don’t let the history of this planet fool you. All their mysticism is based around fundamental principles that can be measured and verified for yourself. We are lucky to have access to this planet. The PodBlackians are currently helping the little sweet green creatures, the Bweedles, a childlike race. They have been transported here from their home planet where they have been harmed emotionally and physically, by forces outside of their control. Our visit will be short so that we do not interrupt the transfer of tools and knowledge from the PodBlackians to the Bweedles. They have to do this in secret. The PodBlackians are currently hiding from those very same forces that caused so much damage to the creatures they are helping.

The Skeptica is now coming about and heading to over to the Delta quadrant of the universe. Here we are going to visit an interesting world, Auditant. The coolest thing about Auditant is that despite the fact they have developed tremendously complex and intricate buildings, startling advanced electronics and computer systems, and have pushed science to the limit beyond most other civilizations, they don’t have any written language. Everything they do is perfectly recorded and played back at a later date.

image

However the Auditants are prolific! Lets stop by one of their auditory arenas. These arenas are shaped like football fields where they lob verbal assaults on their targets. For example in this first match we can see the team HJHOP launch a barrage of searing verbal battering rams on a variety of topics such as a secret society, and some hauntings in one of their provinces. Then you can see the HJHOP team swing around and dive down the format line to score a point by utterly destroying one of the opposing teams biggest windbags who resembles a large pig.

After the match, the winning team has assembled a nice evening with some good music for our pleasure. They are hoping their selection will bring us back on every trip.

The auditants have also asked us to take a look in news feeders (there are only 400,000 of them!). But in particular, they thought we might be interested in seeing how they found out how cultural myths spread and how they get busted up! We are going to move on, be we have downloaded the audio images you your viewscreens so you can hear them at your leisure as we move on to the next stop!

image

Vitelli, is a barren planet but the only surface species left are quite amazing. They come to the surface to socialize and do nothing else. Eating, caring for children, society building and the general advancement of their civilization all happens underground where there are huge fungal gardens and many varieties of game to catch in the many many miles of caverns available to the inhabitants.

What happened you ask? Its a long story, and the Vitellians are not quick to discuss it, and for all for formidable stature and dexterity, you can watch as the slouch in shame on this topic. Apparently the Vittelians were not always the quick witted creatures you see before you today. There was a time where they assigned the cause of random negative events to members of their own society. So if something bad happened, they would pursue one of their own, and perform any number of horrendous things to them until they were dead. They have sent us a brief history of these events, going over the why, the how and the when. But they have also included data about how some of their early ancestors noticed that perhaps this was not the right course of action. image

Leaving planet Vitelli, in a rare fluke of nature, there is another planet in the very same star system with another sentient species. The Mikes live on the rocky planet Jaqsone. These helmeted creatures do everything in pairs. Everything they build, everything that write, everything they destroy, they do it in couples. Recently however, a visitor from another planet came. A great majority of the population of Jaqsone revered this ghost like visitor who taught them new ways of communicating and moving their double jointed bodies.

Unfortunately, the visitor from another planet could not live long in the Jaqsonian atmosphere and he came to an early demise. At this news more aliens came to Jaqsone and tried to cash in on his death. The Mikes would have none of this. They loved their visitor, and didn’t want his memory tarnished by buzzards and swindlers who came later. So they wrote two manifestos on it, you know, because they do everything in twos.

Honestly I don’t know who is in charge of naming planets, but you would think that they didn’t have to repeat things. We have arrived to the planet Jupiter. No, not our Jupiter. This Jupiter is just as large, but its in the Centaurus A galaxy, near the OneBrow Star.

image

The inhabitants of Jupiter live underwater. They are not large creatures, they are only about 2 meters tall, but they are amazingly dense! If they were on our planet they would each weigh in at 4 metric tons! They are aware that their species is one of the only sentient bottom dwellers in the universe, and therefore, in a half joking manner, refer to themselves  as People-from-the-Floor-of-the-Ocean. We just refer to them as Floorians. Its appropriate since they call us Walkers. 

This species is incredibly advanced. Our guide is just a slightly-smarter-than-standard working guy there, advising architects and building homes, but look at some of his daily correspondence with his beer drinking colleagues as they discuss they latest philosophical arguments! Note: Floorian beer tastes very similar to urine, I'm sure you wouldn’t want to try either.

You may have thought that after 600 years of reality and game shows on earth we would have pretty much covered everything. But you would be wrong. We are arriving at the planet Cubik.  This planet is an enigma all unto itself.

image

The inhabitants look like spider, but they are quite humorous and friendly. They have been at gaming in various forms for thousands of years. Games are used as demonstrations of love, they are use as acts of war, they are used in political processes. There is no aspect of life that does not involve one form or another of gaming whether it be solitary games or massively multiplayer games. While they have certainly has a couple of centuries of of electronic dabbling, mostly they have stuck to games that require physical interaction.  They have built entire societies around games. If you look out your window, you will see the ruins of the old Age of Knights, which involved bigger than life pieces that were played across entire states between mutple opponents. Alas, the age of knights faded away, soon to be replaced by the Age of Colorful board games, The Age of Electronic games, The Video game age and for the last two thousand year they have been in the Game Show Age. Lets try to get a feed…

Ah yes, here we go. Here is a game show where a small band of nonbelievers are pitted against believers of the local religion. In one hour we should be seeing some conversions. I wonder if they have a similar game show where they can get converted back?

Now  have a nice surprise for you. We will be visiting Caliban. This planet just opened itself up to us very recently, however its inhabitants have been seen on many other planets for the last few years. That is why we knew they existed. After much encouragement, we are finally able to visit their homeworld.

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While they are ferocious warriors they are also adroit thinkers. Most of their written text whether found in the libraries on Caliban or in texts on other planets you will find strong words, sharp tongue and a warlike stance on many subjects. For example, take a look at how they recently shredded some ancient texts that are no longer useful to the society. It comes in six scathing chapters and it is not even done yet! But perhaps you would like to delve into some of their military history? I wouldn’t want these pesky bastards opposing me!

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We are wrapping up our journey here, I hope you have been enjoying your travels. Lets stop at a couple of more planets. First lets jaunt over to Bernardin, this planet is home to one and a half evolving minds. I say one and a half because it is clear that there is one at least a brightly colored tentacled soft spoken creatures, the Drewniads. And while there are certainly a multitude of intelligent creatures on this lush planet there is one in particular that resembles our dogs. We are still trying to determine if these creatures are as sentient and intelligent as the Drewniads, and while there is some evidence of it were are still trying to ascertain the range of emotions these creatures feel.

On our last other worldy stop we are going to Sirius the Dog Star. Around it is a small planet discovered quite some time ago. Again, the alert planet namers decided to call this planet Sirius also. Further… the inhabitants? Yeah they are the Sirians. The largest Ocean? Sirius. The largest landmass? Sirius. It goes on and on. Someone really was slacking at their job.

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The planet itself is the height of beauty and wonder however. The gorgeous landscapes are so striking they just make you want to get down on your knees and thank the universe for being so wonderful. In fact, the Sirians do exactly that every evening. Its a good break from their daily routine where they are far more serious about what else the universe brings them!

Anyway, the Sirians are a rambling lot. They often have sessions just telling each other what they think the other person doesn’t know. In fact, they’ve got long lists of things that should not be mention because they are bad form. but when they get away from their loquacious vomit, they sometimes write about softer, happier things. Let me give you a recent submission on the Sirian soul. 

OK, we are heading back to Earth. We, the crew of the Skeptica have truly enjoyed touring the universe with you and we hope you will return soon and often. Before you leave the vessel, make sure you avoid the drinking the water at the starport. We have new water treatment facilities but we are unsure if they are working properly. Also, as you leave the port, there may be people from a completely different dimension handing you flyers about how to get to their homes. We do not recommend it. As you leave feel free to take one of the touring guides with you.

 

Touring Guide

The SkepBitch

St. Louis Skeptical Society

PodBlack Cat

Happy Jihads House of Pancakes

Providentia

Skeptical Teacher

Life, The Universe and One Brow

Cubik’s Rube

Terrible Truth, Beautiful Lie

Evolving Mind

The Bronze Blog

Effort Sisyphus

 

Captain’s Note: I realize that some of the material presented here may be owned by the artist. If you own any of the pictures or Spore Creatures I have used, please tell me and I will happily apply proper credit or remove them if you wish. I hope you liked how they were used, its for a good cause.

The Next Skeptic’s Circle will be hosted by Beyond the Short Coat on July 30th. Check it out!


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Circle Submissions

Its the 13th today. I’m going to put out the next circle in the next couple days. As I mentioned before, I still have an imminent baby arrival and I had asked everyone the proof read themselves and perform a self check if you think you wrote a quality post for it because I wasn’t sure of my time allotment between babyTech’s arrival and writing a good circle.

So, what happened? Well I only have 4 entries.  Please submit, I’m time challenged right now, but not THAT challenged. I’ll post the circle when I get at least 10 entries.


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Bad Business Practice

 

facts1I’m an engineer. When I work I use my dozen years of engineering education and  dozen or so years of engineering experience and creativity to assess a problem, develop strategies for a solution, and then implement that solution.

In assessing a problem, I look at the physical symptoms of a problem, I collect tangible data about whatever I am studying, I push systems to they boundary conditions and examine performance.

When determining one more more possible solutions for a problem I look at what other people have done and specifically what their results were. I may try a few things to see if parts of one solution or another might work.

When I implement a solution I check to see if it worked under normal conditions, I check to see if operating conditions change that my solution is superior to the original implementation, or at least the same.

Then I learn from my mistakes. If I designed something poorly the first time, I want to be sure I understood why it was poor so that I can avoid doing it again.

All of these efforts require strong attention to physical, measurable results. It all requires that I don’t pretend something will just work because I want it to. It requires that I check to see if my assumptions are correct.

Why am I telling you this? Because I am continually amazed when I hear about superstitious engineers, particularly religious ones, and of those, particularly young earth, bible thumping ones.

The other day, I was looking for a simple relay board that would switch 1 amp load when signaled from my tiny digital signals from my microcontroller. Pretty straight forward. I had a bunch of other requirements also. Well I found what I was looking for from Winford Engineering. They make a bunch of boards that are good for prototyping designs, so I got a few of their relay boards.

They work fine.

But I got a little present with my boards.  A little pamphlet, entitled “Facts to Face”. Hmm. I wonder what facts are so important that they would send it along with my order? What am I missing or so unknowledgeable about that someone at Winford felt that they must pass along this vital information. Global Warming? Crime Prevention? Suicide?

facts2

Well apparently the first fact is that I need to be saved.  This fact is quoted from some where called Romans. These guys, without knowing one thing about me presume I have sinned by some standard known only to them. Apparently I’m gonna die from this sin disease. Why can’t they just write in readable English?

The second fact is that I can’t save myself! What? I can help myself, and when I can’t I have friends and profressionsals that can… but not from this mysterious sin that they tell me about. Oh Noes!

facts3

God’s Son died to save me? Wait, I thought he was resurrected. So he didn’t really die did he? So this dude has been alive floating around for two thousand years and I am supposed to feel bad that he spent a few days strung up. Hey, tell you what, show me modern evidence that I can live forever and I will also happily be strung up to a cross for 3 measly days. Not really much of a sacrifice is it?

The next fact is that God apparently shows me how to be saved. Looks like if I want eternal life, then all I have to do is…you know.. be gods son. I mean really, has anyone actually visited this heaven place? How do we know there isn’t just one person there. Someone send me a photo!

facts4 

The next fact that I need to hear about is that if I believe in god, he will forgive my nonexistent sins. Whew! that is good to know! But look at that! I can do all things through Christ! That's weird, I don;t even know what that means. Can I do some things through horse? Seems to me that I can do all things through work and learning.

Fact #6 tells me that Christian should be working for God. I would like to know how much God pays per hour. I mean with no actual guarantee that he is there, seems to me that I’d like something tangible now. Good thing I am not a Christian, I guess I am free form this work paid by IOUs.

I got a giggle that they sent this to me. I was at a loss to understand why they would send this out. So I asked.

Is it a company policy to send along religious paraphernalia with
shipments or is someone in your shipping department doing this for you?

I got a response pretty quickly

Yes, this is our company policy. The three owners of the company
(myself being one) all believe the Bible is true, and God's Word, and we
hope our customers will take a minute to evaluate the claims of the
Bible. So, it is our policy to include this in the first order we send
to each of our customers.

I will never order from them again.

Its not that they are religious. I don’t care what they do on their own time. Who am I to comment on their shared delusion? No, I won’t order from them for two reasons: I find it insulting for them to tell me, by way of a dumb pamphlet, that they think I am one way or another without knowing me. The presumption!  But more importantly, I won’t order from them because they have clearly demonstrated that they are willing to make extremely important decisions about themselves, about their lives and about other people based on nothing other than some dumb book and the cultish blathering of those who follow it. If I need to return something will they tell me that God told them not to take it? If I need them to fix something will they pray for it to get better?

I don’t really care that they sent this pamphlet. I just think its a dumb business practice. It won’t convert anyone, and people who already believe that nonsense already have a bible. They are just wasting money, and doing nothing. Its not like relay boards are that hard to find (or make).


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Depressing Article

 

While I have for the most part sworn off reading Discovery News because of its tendency, like New Scientist, to hype and misreport, I did see this.

A new Pew Research Center poll indicates that 27 percent of Americans say the nation's greatest achievements are in science, medicine and technology, more than any category other than don't know.

But that's down from 47 percent in a similar study a decade ago, the center reported Thursday.

How depressing. The Europeans publish more science than we do, and continue to excel in a number of areas over the US (except military size which is what we have excelled in for decades).

But you know what? Considering that

87 percent of AAAS scientists believed that humans and other living things evolved naturally, compared with 32 percent of the general public

I’ll take this as a win:

And 69 percent of Americans say all parents should be required to vaccinate their children, compared with 82 percent of scientists.

Note, that says required. That is different than what we have now, where parents are just encouraged.


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Calcium Woomover

Today at work I was looking for electrochemical methods to move specific ions. Turns out that there are both electrochemical methods to do it and electrodialysis methods (I'd call electrodialisys a subset of electrochemistry). But this is not a post on that.

This is a post on an amazing product called the Hardness Master. Look at the amazing things this thing can do!

▪ Provides an effective and healthy alternative to Water Softeners and De-scalers
▪ Utilizes latest MaxConditioning™ technology to effectively address a broader range of scale and hard water problems
Handles up to 50 grains per gallon (or 50 gpg or 855 mg/L or 855 ppm) of water hardness
Note: The Total # of grains per gallon (gpg) is equal to the Total # of mg/L value ÷ 17.1 (i.e., Total gpg = Total mg/L ÷ 17.1)
▪ Easy to install (do-it-yourself installation requires no plumber and no cutting of pipes)
▪ Accommodates up to 1 1/2" plumbing, or even greater (call for details)
▪ NO salt or chemicals needed (healthier & wiser choice)
"Green" and eco-friendly technology
▪ No Maintenance (just "set it and forget it" operation)
▪ Extends the life of your water heater and plumbing fixtures
▪ Works with Copper, PVC and Steel pipes
▪ Soap and shampoo lather much better
▪ Changes the Hard Water Molecules to Soft Crystals
▪ Treated Water Feels Silky Smooth
▪ Prevents new Scale forming
▪ Removes old Scale layers

It's that MaxConditioning Technology that I am admiring so much! Really, who knew that running current in a coil could provide me with such an amazing list of properties as mentioned above! I mean really it changes Hard Water Molecules to Soft Crystals! Is that a molecule of hard water, or a water molecule that is hard? Calcium carbonate is a rock, a crystal of it is soft? Oh look! Customer testimonials!

Clearly this product has all the markings of being woo. But is it?

OK, lets discuss the core technology here. There are so many things wrong with the description it is hard to know where to start. So, I'll go in bits and pieces and I hope you'll bear with me. Lets start with the field it creates . Electric fields and magnetic fields are in fact related but to simplify, an electric field is defined by the voltage potential between two objects (think Van Der Graf generator, or lightning) while an magnetic field is defined by the current traveling through a conductor (think electromagnet). MaxConditioning Technology is the latter, current runs through a wire, it is not an "electric field" as claimed. So which is it? Does an electric field make this process work? That would mean that this device doesn't do what it says because it created a magnetic field, not an electric one. So what about this magnetic field?

The HardnessMaster™ advanced MaxConditioning™ technology produces an oscillating electric field in the water pipe (refer to pictures above and below) which changes continuously in frequency and amplitude. This changes the property of the hardness minerals so they stay in solution and not form scale in pipes, water heater, on fixtures and bath walls, etc.

What exactly is a "hardness mineral"? Shall we presume that they meant a magnetic field and that this performs the magic for them? OK, fine, but by what mechanism? Magnets mostly affect metals, in particular ferrous metals. If used in MRI strengths and frequencies, can be used to energize water. But there really isn't much of a case to be made that calcium carbonate is affects by magnets in any way. OK, so they oscillate the magnetic field at varying frequencies, but how does that change the solubility of the calcium?

Here is an article that studied the solubility of calcium carbonate in water in a magnetic field (a static, unchanging one). The result?

It was found that magnetic treatment increases the total amount of precipitate...

Uh, that's the opposite of what you want! They claimed the magnetic field decreased solubility, not precipitation! However, it appears that even with precipitation, there is a little more to the story. If you have precipitation of CaCO3 (calcium carbonate), you want it to come out in the water and not on the surfaces of things. So even with precipitation, if it only comes out in the flowing water, a case could be made that it is better than scaling up on and in small orifices.

I think we can say that this is probably the definitive summary report on using magnetic fields to clean up water. They looked at 108 articles on magnetic water treatment and took the 34 best, based on procedural quality, measurement quality, hypothesis testing and other merits. While this great summary mostly concerns itself with permanent magnets without changing fields, there is one paper in there by Fan and Cho that seems to be the one that this particular device is based off of. Its a 1997 paper called, "Microscopic Observation of Calcium Carbonate Particles:Validation of an electronic Anti-Fouling Technology". There were three other papers by this group in 1998 and 1999 all using the same "anti-fouling technology" with small, but measurable differences in scale buildup between the AFT use and nonuse.

However these results are not replicated by anyone, and the WQA discusses these papers in the following way:

The report doesn't set out to make any definitive statement statement that magnetic water treatments works (nor did the even define what "working" means). In fact, they summarize the findings of these 34 papers as follows:

One thing to note from the summary. None of the papers were able to verify any of the proposed hypotheses of why magnetic water treatment should work . Most of the papers didn't even show much, if any, improvement.

With no verified mechanism by which scaling would be prevented, sporadic and limited evidence that magnetic therapy has any effect at all on water quality, no reason that a magnetic field should have any effect on a non-ferrous particle, in particular calcium carbonate, and no verification that pulsing a magnetic field through which water with high calcium concentrations flow does anything, I think we can safely say that, until there is more evidence, this is not effective.

Forgetting for the moment that the core technology is unlikely to work, lets take a look at some of the other claims...

It will also gradually dissolve away any preexisting scale that may exist in your pipes and water appliances

Oh goody another claim for which a possible mechanism is completely absent. The coil only wraps around one little spot, why would scale that is located in the faucet get removed? I believe that the possibility they are going for is that if the calcium particles have agglomerated, then the water surrounding the crystals will have a low concentration of calcium in it, therefore the scale has a chance to dissolve in it. Or at least, thats how I would defend this claim if this were my product.

"Green" and eco-friendly technology

This would only be true if the device worked! Otherwise its a power consuming chink of plastic and metal.

The funniest part, with respect to the rest of the product description is the animation, which completely counters the claims made on the first page and all of the supporting data from journal papers as presented above. In that animation they do claim that the solubility rises. They show larger particles entering the coil area, and no particles leaving implying that they get dissolved. This is completely in opposition to the idea of "hard water molecules" being changed into "soft crystals". It also goes completely against the results from Cho in their anti-fouling papers.

So we have:

  • Extraordinary claims that defy current understanding of a process
  • User testimonials
  • Flashy animations that describe processes that don't happen
  • Appeals to being green, cheap, easy

I say don't buy this product. What do you say?

P.S. If anyone at Vitasalus (feel free to browse their selection of other woo-ish products), who makes this product, wants an independent test of it, I will happily do a professional job of it. But I am not going to spend 300 bucks just to find out that I was right on the off chance that I might be wrong.




Submit to Skeptical Blog Anthology 2009


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Go easy on me

As you may have seen, the next Skeptic’s circle has arrived at Homologous Legs. He gives us a nice journey through the wide and varied circle of skeptics who bring you great posts every couple of weeks!

As you will know by going there,  completely to my wife’s disdain and exasperation, I signed up for the next circle, #115. Her furious flustering is completely warranted, since she is so pregnant I have seen small objects orbit around her. Yes, we are about to have a baby, and of course the due date is within days of the next circle.

I really have been wanting to do this for a while and in my excitement I didn't attach the offered date to the birthday of my new son, because, as he will soon know, his dad is an absent minded dork.

I don’t want to limit the entries, I hate when people do that. I want everyone to have exposure of their best and brightest posts. But please take it easy on me, please just send me your single best post from the next two weeks. If you don’t have something “Circle Quality” please send nothing, we all have dry patches. At worst, flag it as “2nd tier” and I will look at it in a second round for entry (in case everyone gets scared off by my request here and sends nothing). I don’t want to discourage people from putting stuff in the circle, but I want to provide a quality one even with my scheduling conflicts. Please be my proof reader.

All entries can be sent to techskeptic@gmail.com

Do good work! Send em in!

 

-Tech

 

P.S. For fun, tell me what the name of the planet you would be from is (if you were not from this one), it doesn’t have to be real. Tell me what the name of your species would be if you were from that planet. Oh, and I’d really like to know what you would be doing in your life, as a member of that species on that planet. Or heck, keep this information to yourself, if you think its so secret.

P.S.S. Yeah, I’m a 41 year old little boy. :P


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Request

 

Well I’m going to give this a shot. I am very aware of my limitations. I wish I had time to  be expert on a great many things, but we must pick and choose. I have an idea that I think will enhance many skeptical debates, but I need help. If you answer yes to all of the following questions, maybe you can send me an email?

Can you program websites? I don't mean modify templates, I can do that. I mean could you, with time, create a website like reddit or recovery.org? Can you create code that would be generated for people to place on their websites that would direct people to particular links on this website? Similar to digg buttons.

Are you truly skeptical? Would you really change your mind about something given a standard of evidence that you use for other things you agree with? If it could be shown the gun ownership reduces crime without increasing accidental death, would you change your gun control stance? Is there ever enough evidence that could be assembled that would lead you to believe in a designer?

Do you have time to make a website? I have no idea how long this would take, there may be tools available around to make implementation faster. I’m not looking for a lot of graphics or flash. Just functionality. I don’t think its pure html, i suspect there is java involved. But I am not sure. These is not a static site and will require a database and account creation.

Would you want to work with an anonymous skeptic?

Well those are my big questions. I’m sure more may crop up.

I really think this idea could attract a lot of traffic and I really think it would help a lot in skeptical debates and getting information out there. I can’t offer money, who has any? I can offer some part of any sort of google ad revenue, but some of that money would have to go towards maintaining the site.

 

Any takers?


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